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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks on Presenting the National Endowment for the Humanities 1991 Charles Frankel Awards

1991-11-15

Please be seated, and we'll get on with the show here. Welcome to all of you. Barbara and I are just delighted to have you here. I especially want to single out Lynne Cheney, the Chairman -- hey, you -- [laughter] -- the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities; and then greet the members of the Council, the Endowments National Council. And, of course, a special greeting to the honorees.

Lynne and I and Barbara want you to know how deeply we value the achievements of the NEH, and especially how much -- let me say to you -- how much we appreciate your leadership, Lynne -- an exemplary scholar and an outstanding public servant. And she really is doing a first-class job over there.

As we single out these recipients for honor of the third annual Frankel Prize for the Humanities, let me just recall some words of Thomas Jefferson, ``If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of the day.''

Well, those words from Thomas Jefferson point to the vital connection between knowledge and freedom. And they remind us that citizens of all ages must strive for greater learning if society is to thrive. This prize honors men and women who are teachers-at-large; who share with the public their love for the humanities and for America as a civilization. With the Frankel Prize, we honor front-line defenders of our Nation's culture and values.

Charles Frankel was a university professor, writer, cultural affairs leader in our diplomatic service, and founder of the National Humanities Center. Our honorees exemplify the commitment to learning and civic responsibility that characterized Mr. Frankel's great life. Their achievements give resonance to the words of Henry Adams, ``A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.''

Winton Blount, Red Blount to me, my dear friend from Alabama, he's a man of many parts. He's poured equal portions of his tremendous talent and energy into business entrepreneurship, public service, and leadership in education and the humanities. For the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, he and his wife, Carolyn, generously donated an outstanding performing arts center. He's a patron and director of the Folger here, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. He served more than three decades as a trustee of the University of Alabama, and he serves on the Alabama Foundation of Educational Excellence.

He also has helped support the written word in a way few of us ever will have the chance to do, namely, as U.S. Postmaster General. Think of all the latter-day Brownings and Brontes whose love verses and novel manuscripts reached their destinations thanks to this man right here. [Laughter]

With a passion for American history and culture, Ken Burns has taken this country's most defining experience and made it a documentary film masterpiece, ``The Civil War.'' Thirty-eight million television viewers, 38 million, have observed Ken Burns' artistry in recounting America's epic. Ken has also made acclaimed documentaries on Huey Long, Thomas Hart Benton, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. And now I can't wait for him to complete his next project, a film about baseball.

Happy occasions are coming in bundles today. This is the birthday of Winton Blount's wife, Carolyn; and of Ken Burns' daughter, Lilly, who is 5 years old.

An insightful literacy critic and teacher, Louise Cowan, believes that appreciation of literature is essential in the formation of civic and business leaders. Over the years she's impressed thousands of students with the power of literature to form the conscience and consciousness of a people. She ranks among the great builders of education in Texas. As English department chairman and graduate school dean, she brought strength and distinction to the University of Dallas in its formative years.

As founder of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, she's brought community leaders together to discuss the impact of humanities on civic values. One of her new students happens to be my daughter-in-law. There's no nepotism involved in this award, I might point. [Laughter] But with pride, we point out that our daughter-in-law is there. As a remarkable teacher of teachers, Louise Cowan also founded the Dallas Teachers Academy, which helps deepen the learning and skills of teachers in the Dallas public schools.

Karl Haas has endeared himself to millions of radio listeners for his ``Adventures In Good Music'' program. Karl's program combines selections of classical music with his warm and informative commentaries. Karl's appeal reaches beyond the usual confines of classical music audiences. He likes to tell about the letters he gets from farmers who tune into his show on their transistor radios while driving their tractors. His large following also includes many who listen to the Armed Services Radio Network.

Karl Haas began his musical career as a concert pianist. He continues his concert tours and performed in 25 cities just last year. He also is author of the popular reference book, ``Inside Music.''

John Kuo Wei Tchen is a professional historian who has helped Americans discover the riches of immigrant culture through his prolific writings, lectures, media productions, and organizational efforts. As cofounder of New York's Chinatown History Museum, he's won praise all across the Nation for his innovative approaches to presenting community history. He served 2 years as Chairman of the New York Council for the Humanities, and recently he was appointed to the Advisory Council of the Smithsonian. He wrote a prize-winning book on photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown.

And on behalf of all Americans, Barbara and I thank all of you for the commitment that you've shown to the humanities and to your fellow citizens. And may God bless you all.

And now, Chairman Cheney, if you will take over and instruct us as to how we present these well-deserved awards.

Chairman Cheney. I can do this, Mr. President, if you show me how the podium works. [Laughter]

The President. Yes. I don't want you to look like Queen Elizabeth. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President presented the awards.]

The President. Thank you all for coming. And congratulations once again to all the winners -- well-deserved. We're proud of you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:34 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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